Dieter Rams’ 10 Principles of Good Design and How to Apply Them in Graphic Design

Articles April 25, 2012

After discussing the Vignelli Canon, we’re going to delve more into design principles applied in the different fields of design today. One designer that I’ve always admired is the industrial designer, Dieter Rams. His works within different industries have become classic standards of simple, elegant, and lasting design. Yet though his principles of design have spread throughout the world, there are still far more thoughtlessly-designed products out in the market.
 

Industrial Design for Graphic Design

 
Industrial design is the process of creating a product that combines the best of aesthetics, ergonomics, and usability. These three can be compared to typographic design’s form, legibility, and readability. Design in general can be treated as a form of communication; it informs and allows people to easily identify a product or concept based on its associated color and form.
 

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As Vignelli would say, design is a language. Designers may have different specializations, but all of them use design as a form of communication. Almost every principle made for a specific design discipline can be used in another, and vice versa. Or we can just say, all these principles are taken from one root – human experience and its improvement.
 
Combining all the design principles we have today is an impossible task, but what we can do is apply these principles into our chosen field of design. A great example of a set of design principles that can be easily transferred and used in various fields of design is Dieter Rams’ Ten Principles of Good Design.
 

The Ten Principles of Good Design

 
Dieter Ram’s principles can be compared to Massimo Vignelli’s canon. The only difference between them is that the latter’s principles were made particularly for typography. On the other hand, Dieter Rams’ ten principles are about creating good product design, but can be applied to any design field.
 
Now, if we were to skilfully apply Dieter Ram’s principles to graphic design (and maybe even infuse it with the spirit of Vignelli’s canon), we would have an ideal design that not only caters to the human need, but also helps improve human life along the way.
 
Below I’ve condensed Dieter Rams’ ten principles to eight. I’ve decided to combine some principles that I think either need to work with one another (i.e., honest design, product understandability, and usefulness) or will be understood better when paired together (i.e., unobtrusive and thorough design). Here’s how I think you can apply these principles in graphic design:
 

Graphic Design…

 

Is Innovative

 
As Austin Kleon would put it, steal like an artist. How do we innovate in graphic design? We steal or borrow ideas, improve on it AND make it our own. Many, if not most, artists are inspired by other artists. If people from the 14th to the 17th century didn’t think of a Renaissance, we’d never see the world as we see it today.
 

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Is Aesthetic

 
Graphic design is more than a visualized idea. It must tap into the senses of the people and act as catalyst for further interaction. Much like in advertising, it must tap into a customer’s experience and emulate it, then provoke a longing for that experience. The smart execution of design based on aesthetics can also be seen in classic magazine covers like Esquire, National Lampoon, etc., as they portray a culture’s current affairs and invite people to take part in it by at least being updated and informed.
 

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Is Unobtrusive and Thoroughly-Designed

 
A graphic design’s function is to disseminate information or an idea. It must not, by any means, annoy or be visual pollution. The design must be well-thought of and appropriate. Elements and details of the design must also be considered; these may become restraining and obtrusive if overused or left unconsidered.
 

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Is Honest

 
As a form of communication, graphic design must be presented directly – no flash, no tricks, no obstructions. It must be highlighted or be given emphasis for the audience. This is especially important in advertising; honesty and the capability to deliver is what drives an active and loyal market.
 

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Is long-lasting

 
Graphic design as a form of visual communication must be able to create a lasting message that is either relevant or needed during his time. It is also upon the designer to be conscious of his surroundings and ask we questions such as “Do we need this?”, “Is this relevant today?”, or “Will this change someone’s life?”
 

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Is as Little Design as Possible
 
As an element in advertising, graphic design must be straightforward and concise. It must focus on information that is relevant to the market or audience. Graphic design streamlines information and makes it easier for people to understand, and it must do it in a functional yet aesthetic method.
 
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Good design is not a mere standard in creating a product or an advertisement. It’s a way of life, a belief that better things can be provided to the public. It’s one way of saying that design has a lot to do with life and they way we live it.
 
 
Each designer has his own standard and principle when working on projects. As mentioned earlier, people have different mileages regarding a lot of things. I cooked this up for beginners and experienced designers who wish to find inspiration from other professionals.
 
Please let me know your thoughts about Dieter Rams’ principles of good design and my presentation of them in this post, as well as how you think these can be applied to graphic design or to any discipline!
 
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Cadence is You The Designer's senior blogger, and the most jack-of-all-trades of the staff. She's always trying out something different every day, some of which fuels her posts here on the blog. Let her know if you want us to post more about your favorite topic - she might know more than a thing or two about it!

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